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This is a place to explore our language. Do you want to learn more about how languages work? Read here. Do you have a question about what is "right" and "wrong" in English? Read here. Have you ever noticed something funny, strange, or confusing about the way people talk? Then this is the place for you. Here we can explore the do's, don'ts, and d'ohs of our language.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


jilledwards said...
And speaking of acronyms evolving into mainstream words, did you know that 'golf' is an acronym? At least, I think it is. I learned this from our uncle Dale, who, quite possibly, could have been trying to fool me. (He's gotten me in the past with Nancy Ann Seeancy...) But this one I believe. Know what it sands for?


Jill is referring to a folk etymology. There is an e-mail circulating that says that golf stands for "Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden." The story goes that the Scots came up with this acronym (golf began in Scotland).

No way, Jose.

Please be careful with creative folk etymology. You can safely bet that the majority of the interesting or cute acronyms regarding word origin are entertainingly false.

The word golf probably comes from the Scottish word gowf which means "to strike" or it could come from the Dutch word kolf which means "club." (Special thanks to Michael Quinion's book Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds for this information.)

Could golf really have come from "gentlemen only ladies forbidden?" It's possible, but not likely. The real truth is that our use of a word is always much more interesting than its origin. Word usage changes and evolves. The way we use a word can change over decades and even centuries.

For our final thought on bogus word etymology, let us look at an interesting word. I will not spell it out here, but I'm sure you will recognize it as vulgar. (Hint: it has four letters, it begins with "s," and it rhymes with mitt.) This colorful word has been around for over four-hundred years. It even appears in Shakespeare. It likely comes to English by way of Middle English, on loan from German. (German has its own counterpart scheisse).

If you want comedy about how the word is used, you won't get it here. (George Carlin does it much better anyway.) But I can understand how we might need to think that such a colorful word has an equally colorful birth. I am referring to the entertaining but bogus folk etymology "Ship High In Transit." The story goes that in colonial times it was necessary to transport fertilizer by boat. Men would write "Ship High In Transit" on boxes of fertilizer as a warning so that the cargo would not get wet and spoil.

I'm sorry, but this explanation is a load of "Ship High In Transit."


Laura Edwards said...

Um...the "do's" what? Has the language maven forgotten his basic rules about apostrophes?

jilledwards said...

Ha! Good one, Laura!

Nick WF said...

I concur...good one Laura! The only thing worse than a maven who uses improper grammar is an English professor who can't spell (like me!).

vlbrown said...

It may have been spelled differently, but a friend of mine was telling me last night about Nancy Ann. My friend used to work for a shop that was sending out "we're having a sale" cards to customers. Miss Nancy Ann Williams had apparently recently been married and Williams was crossed out on the card. Inked in was her new last name: Seeancy

vlbrown said...

Ceance perhaps?

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About The Author

My name is Ben Edwards. I live in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where I grew up. In 2002, I graduated Truman State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics. I have a wife named Laura and a son named Michael. I am proud to be a Spanish teacher at Notre Dame Regional High School. When I am not working, I like to spend time with my family.